By: Subhash Gatade
Bomb blasts have taken place near the Delhi High Court, in Bombay , Bangalore etc. Within a few hours of such bomb blasts many T V channels started showing news item that Indian Mujahidin or Jaish-e-Mohammed or Harkatul-jihad-e-islam have sent e-mails or SMS claiming responsibility. The names of such alleged organizations will always be Muslim names. Now an e-mail can be sent by any mischievous person, but by showing this on TV channels and next day in the newspapers the tendency is to brand all Muslims in the country as terrorists and bomb throwers…Should the media, wittingly or unwittingly, become part of this policy of divide and rule?
(Justice (retired) Markandey Katju, Chairman of the Press Council of India, October 10, 2011 at a get-together with mediapersons)
What is common between the murder of the leader of a private army of landlords at the hands of his own gang members in faraway Bihar over distribution of booty, the felicitation of a terrorist lodged in jail as ‘living martyr’ ( zinda Shaheed ) in Punjab or the anointment of a hatemonger as the poster boy of the main opposition party ? Formally speaking there are no connections but if one tries to dig further few subterranean linkages become clear. Whether one agrees or not they exhibit the growing legitimacy of authoritarian, fanatic, exclucivist politics in this part of the subcontinent .
It is difficult to believe the manner in which the mass murderer called Brahmeshwar Singh was glorified and the state turning mute spectator to indiscriminate violence unleashed by his supporters (mainly his caste antisocials) or the manner in which two senior leaders of the saffron dispensation – ex Central Cabinet minister C.P. Thakur and Giriraj Singh, a member of Nitish’s cabinet – vied with each other to delcare the murderer as another ‘Gandhi’.
Not to be rest content the felicitation of the terrorist called Rajoana who had been instrumental in killing of innocents was accompanied by demands from the SGPC(Shiromani Gurudwara Prabadhank Committee) to have a memorial erected inside the precincts of the golden temple itself, in memory of those who were ‘martyred’ during the 1984 military action to flush out Bhindranwale and his close comrades.
The Kafquasquean metamorphosis of the hatemonger as ‘development man’ has been discussed for quite some time. With the recent national executive meeting of his party he inched further closer to his long cherished dream. Forget the fact that there have been more than 45 reports prepared by national-international human rights organisations over the bloody developments in the state under his rule and amicus curaie (friend of court) ordering his prosecution for various acts of omission and commission in the 2002 carnage. Forget the fact that thousands of people uprooted during those days are still condemned to live a life of internally displaced persons. Forget the fact that it is ‘free for all’ as far corruption in the higher echleons of power is concerned.
Nobody can miss the ‘coincidence’ that in all the three cases mentioned above saffrons happen to be a common factor. And there is nothing surprising about it. Close watchers of their politics very well know that fascination for violence is an integral part of their weltanshauung .
This fascination for violence in the saffron parivar seems to have reached its pinnacle with the phenomenon of Hindutva terror. It has been more than a decade that this phenomenon has raised its head which saw many avoidable deaths. Here we witness activists, workers, Pracharaks of the ’cause’ collecting arms, storing explosives, engaging themselves in arms training and making elaborate plans to put it at crowded places to have maximum impact. One finds them putting the explosives in larger religious congregations, in crowded trains or in busy areas to teach the ‘others’ a lesson.We also witness the cowardice exhibited during many such operations by them where the conspirators camouflaged themselves as the ‘other’ to further stigmatise the other community. As things stand today n number of workers of different Hindutva formations have been apprehended, cases have been registered, investigations are on.
It is also becoming clear that the “saffron terror’ is a ‘much bigger phenomenon than previously envisaged with the investigating agencies suspecting involvement of Hindutva activists in as many as 16 explosions across the country.’ ( Deccan Herald, 23 Sep 2011 , Anirban Bhaumik, New Delhi , Sep 20, DHNS)
A special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is understood to have recently told the state police chiefs that the Hindutva activists have either been suspected or are under investigation in 16 incidents of bomb blasts in the country. The right wing activists’ role in four incidents of bomb blasts so far has come into public domain, but the top intelligence official’s remark during the annual conference of the Director Generals and Inspector Generals of Police from the states last week revealed that the saffron terror had assumed a much larger proportion.
..Making a presentation during the state top cops’ conference in New Delhi, the senior IB official is understood to have referred to the right wing Hindu organisations, who espoused emotive issues, leading to radicalisation of a section of majority community and thus contributing to spread of what is being called saffron terror.
But somehow one is discovering that the momentum generated after 2008 investigations into the Malegaon bomb blast – taken up by the legendary police officer Hemant Karkare – has lost midway. The year 2010 witnessed some attempts to give it a new push, but for various known-unknown reasons the powers that be do not seem eager to unearth the whole conspiracy, go after the real masterminds, nab the real planners and target their organisations. And with every passing day, the task appears more and more difficult.
On the other hand contrary to general impression that Hindutva terrorists are lying low, one discovers that they are very much active, in fact they have learned from their earlier mistakes which helped the police and security agencies to lay hands on them easily and have reworked their strategies. A random look at events in last few months makes things very clear.
A section of the media reported about how a ‘terror plot was foiled and explosives were seized from a car near Brahmavar’ near Udupi, Karnatak. As usually happens in all such cases the followup of this incident was not reported, despite the fact that the person carrying the explosives happened to be activist of some Hindutva organisation (Terror plot foiled, explosives seized from car near Brahmavar, by CD Network Thursday, 10 May 2012 10:16 , http://www.coastaldigest.com)
Udupi, May 10: A possible terror attack was foiled on Wednesday with the recovery of huge quantity of explosives and detonators from a car near Brahmavar in Udupi district.The Brahmavar police seized explosives from Ganesh Prasad, a resident of Shiriyar village, at Jambur in Yedthady village coming under the limits of Brahmavar police station.It is learnt that Ganesh Prasad was an activist of a Hindutva outfit.
Superintendent of Police M B Boralingaiah informed media that the police had seized 16 gelatine sticks, six detonators, and one kg of gunpowder.The suspected terrorist was carrying the detonators and gunpowder in a car without permit, when he was caught by the police at Yedthady.
The value of the seized items including the car was estimated at Rs 75,000. A case had been registered.
Whether we will ever get answers to the query that who had directed Ganesh Prasad to carry ‘huge quantity of explosives’ and what was the game plan ? Who else was involved in the conspiracy ? Imagine whether the response would have been similar if the carrier of explosives would have been belonging to one of those minority communities.
If Ganesh Prasad was carrying explosives to create disturbances in and around Udupi, his ‘friends’ in Hyderabad were found to be engaged in temple desecration to trigger a riot. It has been widely reported how Hyderabad witnessed communal tension in first half of April 2012. The communally sensitive Madannapet was rocked by communal clashes on April 08 following a temple desecration. Over a dozen people were injured in the violence spread to Saeedabad and surrounding areas forcing police to impose indefinite curfew.Police had clear evidence then itself that hindu extremists were behind this move who had desecrated the temple themselves (Saffron extremists desecrated temple to trigger riots: Cops, Times of India, 14 th April 2012). Within few days the Special Investigation Team of Central Crime Station arrested four hindu youths who were allegedly involved in temple desecration at Kurmaguda in Madannapet police station limits.
The arrested youths were identified as GHMC sanitation superviser Nagaraj of Maddannapet, flower decorator Kiran Kumar, hotel waiter Ramesh alias Chinna and car driver Dayand Singh of Kurmaguda.The key accused who moneylender Srinivas alias Salman Srinu and liquor trader Niranjan could not be nabbed immediately. Police said Srinu and Niranjan hatched a conspiracy at a restaurant on April 7 when they asked Nagaraj, Kiran Kumar, Ramesh and Dayanand Singh to throw pieces of cow legs and sprinkle green-colour water on the wall of Sri Abhayanjaneya Swamy temple which divides two clusters of homes where two groups of people are residing.
According to an official involved in investigation all the four arrested were mere pawns and real challenge before the police is to reach the real conspirators who had planned and executed the operation.
Merely two months before this ‘engineered riot’ police busted a hindutva terror group in Punjab . It may be told here that Haryana witnessed five terror blasts in different parts of the state in 2009 which included a mosque, madrasa and a slaughterhouse. The blasts witnessed death of one person. According to details provided by the police the accused had planted two bombs in a slaughterhouse in Satakpuri village of Mewat district in 2009. They had also planted bombs in mosques in Malav village (Mewat) and Jind, besides conducting a blast in Safido. Interrogation revealied that Rajesh Kumar, one of the gang members earlier worked in a stone crushing company and used to procure explosives for the blasts.
The Patiala Police on 16th February arrested five persons in connection with the series of bomb blasts in various districts of Haryana in 2009. The accused included one Sagar (alias Azad), chief of the Azad Organization under which these people were working. The Patiala SSP DP Singh told newsmen on 16th Feb. that four others have been identified as Sham Niwas, Gurnam Singh, Parveen Sharma and Rajesh Kumar, all residents of Haryana, says a news report published in The Tribune daily on 17th February. They allegedly carried out the blasts including one at a mosque to create a communal rift.
..The police said Sagar was the kingpin who had also taken credit for the blasts by approaching various media houses a day after the blasts.
(By TCN News, 20 February 2012 – 6:45pm)
It may be added here that a year and half back (December 2010) the Mewat police had arrested one Swami Anand Mitranand, a teacher in the Gurukul, in connection with the Gurukul Ashram blast in Nuh, the district headquarters of Mewat. The most notable thing was the blast had taken place on 23rd September, about a week before the much-awaited Lucknow special court verdict on Babri Masjid title suit.
Sindagi, a small town in Bijapur district of Karnataka witnessed terror act of a different kind on the eve of new year. No sooner than this town of around 30 plus thousand people with a mixed population of Hindus as well as Muslims wokeup to their routine activities came the news that a Pakistani flag was fluttering at the tehsil office. And by the time shops opened up members of different Hindutva organisations – Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Sri Ram Sene, Bajrang Dal – had gathered near the tehesil office, raising provocative slogans, and they even tried to damage public property. The very next day bandh call given by pro-Hindu organizations at Sindagi town in the district on Monday received good response.
The investigating team formed by Mr Rajappa, Superintendent of Police, led by DSP S P Muthuraj and assisted by Police Inspector Siddheshwar, Chidambaram and Babagouda Patil also had its task cut out. And within three days the real culprits behind the incident were produced before the media. When the police held a press conference to present the real terrorists, people were in for a big shock. They were those very youngsters who were leading the protests the other day. The hooded photographs of these jeans wearing youth – namely Rakesh Siddaramiah Mutt (19), Anil Kumar (18), Parashuram Ashok (20), Rohit Eshwar (18), Sunil Madiwalappa (18) and Mallangouda Vijaykumar (18) all students of colleges in Sindagi and Bijapur – appeared in one of the newspapers the next day.
The jury is still out about the organisation which designed this operation. Officially, the police maintained that it was the handiwork of Sri Ram Sene led by Praveen Muthalik, whereas district unit of the Sene denied their group’s involvement. They even held a press conference to say that the accused belonged to RSS and even released several pictures to prove their point. They even alleged that the police was under tremendous pressure not to drag the name of the RSS into the issue.
Well placed police sources, told the Hindu that the entire incident was carried out at the behest of an elected representative of the BJP, whose political agenda was to foment communal distrubances in the district. The sources added that the elected representative had instructed his supporters to destroy all evidence of his involvement, including photographs of the protesters and the banners of the organisation.
(‘”Pakistani flag hoisting was a Hindutva plot”The Hindu, 11 th January 2012)
It need be noted that this was not the first incident of its kind involving Hindutva fanatics in this region of Karnataka. There have been similar incidents earlier also. e.g. the same region witnessed an incident of defacing a statue of Vivekananda and a desecration of a temple sometime back which was followed by hate campaign spread by Hindutva organisations against Muslims, without any evidence. It was in 2008 also a Pak flag was hoisted in the Tipu Sultan circle,
The whole incident and its exposure within such a short time gives one an opportunity to look at the way media treats such cases and how it is complicit in ‘othering’ and ‘stigmatising’ of people and communities.When the incident happened the media, especially the Kannada newspapers and channels, tried to project Sindagi flag-hoisting as the handiwork of the Muslim fundamentalists and attempted to whip up communal frenzy. And when the police bust the conspiracy hatched by the Hindutva terrorists except “VARTHABHARATHI” most of the newspapers carried the news on its inner page.
The ‘Sindagi fiasco’ where Hindutva terrorists made a self goal demonstrates once again that they and their ideologues suffer from poverty of ideas. There have been umpteenth occasions where they were caught engaged in terrorist act trying to ‘impersonate’ the ‘other’.It would not be an exaggeration to say that they have been adopting this tactics since pre-partition days. The book ‘Param Vaibhav Ke Path Par’ written by a senior RSS functionary (Sadanand Damodar Sapre, Suruchi Prakashan, Delhi, 1997) provides details of this technique where ‘Swayamsevaks even adopted Muslim religion to gain the confidence of the Muslim League during partition days.’
While there has been no let up in the Hindutva terror operations, one discovers that the accused in the earlier terror cases have started getting bail one after the other. It appears that the NIA, (National Investigating Agency) the premier investigating agency, especially constituted to look into terror cases has suddenly ‘lost interest in taking saffron terror cases’ to their natural conclusion.
A special NIA Court on Tuesday granted bail to Lokesh Sharma, arrested in 2008 Malegaon bomb blast case, as the investigating agency failed to file chargesheet within the stipulated 90-day period.Designated Judge of the Special NIA Court Y D Shinde directed the accused to execute a PR bond of Rs 25,000, while granting him bail.
NIA had taken Lokesh’s custody early this year from Panchkula court, where he was in judicial custody in connection with Samjhauta train bombing case. He was later produced him before a special MCOCA court in Mumbai on February 27 and remanded in NIA custody.The agency had sought Lokesh’s custody to question him in connection with the September 29, 2008 Malegaon blast in which six people were killed. Sharma, a close associate of Sunil Joshi (the suspected ‘mastermind’ behind the blasts who was later murdered), had allegedly also planted a bomb on Samjhauta Express.
2008 Malegaon blast: Court grants bail to Lokesh Sharma , Agencies : Mumbai, Tue Jun 05 2012 , 16:47 hrs (Indian Express)
The cavalier manner in which investigations in these high profile cases is being conducted can be gauged from the fact that two accused in the Malegaon and Mecca Masjid blasts were granted bail by the courts in a span of mere five days. Reason being failure of the investigating agencey to file a chargesheet in the stipulated period of 90 days, as mandated by the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Merely five days before Lokesh Sharma was granted bail, a Hyderabad court granted bail to Bharath Ratheshwar, an accused in the Mecca Masjid blasts, (1 June) on the grounds that the NIA had failed to file a chargesheet even after being granted 180 days to do so. It is known that CrPC makes it amply clear that a chargesheet must be filed in 90 days after the arrest, failing which the accused is entitled for bail unless the investigating agency is able to give sufficient reason for the delay.
Anyone closely following the trajectory of these cases would vouch that they are not stray cases. Earlier, the court had granted bail to three other accused in the Malegaon blasts — Sham Sahu, Shiv Narayan Kalsanghra and Ajay Rahirkar. The release of two accused just a few days apart, definitely indicates that in both these cases the NIA has definitely not managed to put up a strong-enough case for the courts to take cognisance. Few legal experts and police officials who are in the know of things aver that if drastic steps are not taken to overcome resistance by local police in offering assistance to unearth the cases, or attempts are not made to reach the kernel of truth by minimising political interference at various levels, it is possible that in these tough times many more accused could get bail because the chargesheet was not filed in the mandatory period.
Perhaps how the NIA is (mis)managing the investigations is best exemplified by the case of Indresh Kumar.
Indresh Kumar, one of the top leaders of the RSS, looks confident these days.
Not many would recognise today that there was a time – only few months back – when there were reports that he would be arrested allegedly for his involvement in one of the most criminal and murderous phase in the trajectory of majoritarian politics in the country, popularly known as the phenomenon of Hindutva terror. Many of those activists of RSS or other Hindutva organisations who are behind bars for their role in different terror acts had shared with the investigating agencies their interaction with him during different phases of the work or the instructions allegedly given by him or the mobilisation of funds he supposedly did for these terror acts.
Reports appearing in newspapers and other media channels then can give one an idea what was in store for him. “Masjid blast heat on RSS top man’ (Mail Today, 23 Dec 2010 ).,’CBI grills Indresh and calls his bluff’ (Mail Today, 24 th Dec 2010), Indresh Kumar ke Puchhtachh se Sangh ki Dhadkan Tej (RSS dreads questioning of Indresh Kumar. Bhaskar, 24 Dec 2010 ) etc.
In one of its reports last year ‘Siasat’ had described him a ‘kingpin of terror strikes’ ( Thursday, 10 February 2011 (www.siasat.net). It described how :
The heat is on senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar, who was already blamed by Aseemanand as one of the kingpins of terror strikes in Malegaon, Ajmer and Mecca Masjid and Samjhauta express.More trouble is brewing for him as Rajasthan ATS has arrested another one of Indresh’s aides – Bharat Bhai Rateshwar. He was the one who was given the task of mobilising funds for terror strikes.His confession statement – accessed by CNN-IBN – corroborates a lot of what Aseemanand had told investigators himself…
All that is passe!
His interview to a national daily last year demonstrated (Jagran, 31 October 2011 ) his new found confidence. Answering the query about his name being linked to different terror cases he stated that it is the result of ‘the investigating agencies playing into the hands of the government and an attempt to deliberately link Hindu society to terrorist activities’. Lambasting Digvijay Singh, the general secretary of Congress, he said that ‘he visits houses of terrorists in Azamgarh and Delhi and one needs to investigate his relations with terrorists’ and also the manner in which home minister removed ‘names of Pakistanis from the list of terrorists which clearly shows that he has good relations with ISI.’
It was a symptomatic of this changed ambience vis-a-vis the investigations that Indresh Kumars’ meeting with dignitaries or leaders of political parties got enough media attention last year. Reports came in when in May Dalai Lama presented a Khata , a ceremonial scarf to Indresh Kumar at his residence in McLeod Ganj. It was reported that these two leaders discussed the ‘current situation of Tibet ‘, the outgoing Prime Minister of Tibetan government in exile Samdhong Rinpoche was also present during this meeting. After his audience with Dalai Lama, Indresh Kumar also met the Prime Minister elect of the exile government Lobsand Sangay.
When the King of Bhutan arrived in India alongwith his newly wed wife (25 th October 2011) Indresh Kumar met him on behalf of the BJP chief Nitin Gadkari. BJP Convenor of Overseas Affairs Vijay Jolly accompanied him on this visit. A gift -briefcase made of bamboo was presented to the King on behalf of the BJP chief.According to newspaper reports Queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck was presented with a red and blue ‘chunari’ from the Jhandewalan Mandir by Kumar.
With hindsight one can say that the retraction of confession by RSS Pracharak-terrorist Swami Aseemanand ‘saying it was “coerced’ ( March 31, 2011 ), before a court in Ajmer could have played a role in Indresh Kumar’s fresh assertiveness.
Today neither the investigating agencies seem keen to interrogate him nor the ruling Party at the centre appears keen to take the investigations to their logical conclusion despite the political resolution adopted by the Congress Party at Burari (2010) to launch a ‘full probe into the RSS’s alleged terror links.’
What factors have contributed to this sudden turn around as far as the investigations were concerned which were banner headlines during 2010 ? One can think of broadly three factors which have made it possible :
- Legitimacy crisis of the ruling dispensation led by the Congress,
- Multiple strategies employed by the RSS and other likeminded organisations to ward off the danger of getting bracketed as a ‘terrorist group’ ,
- Doublespeak of the UPA on the question of ‘saffron terror’
#No doubt the exposure of corruption cases – may it be the 2G scam, corruption in the organisation of commonwealth games, Adarsh Society etc – and the consequent arrest of senior functionaries of the ruling dispensation and the reaction of the common masses towards the unfolding situation has played a role in defocussing from the ongoing investigations in Hindutva terror cases. The sense of drift at the centre faced by the UPA II regime, the amatuerish way in which the Anna movement was dealt with and the different pulls and pushes in the coalition government itself, negativised the momentum built during 2010 to go to the roots of majorarian terror.
#An important component of the multiple strategies adopted by the Hindutva organisations has been to single out those people who are keen to target RSS or its allied organisations for the ‘terror turn’ as part of their understanding of things or as part of their responsibility to manage stateaffairs. While RSS’s attack on Digvijay Singh, for his consistent stand on this issue is well known, the ‘singling out’ strategy could be better understood if one looks at RSS/BJP’s love/hate relationship with P Chidambaram, home minister of India .
Any close watcher of the unfolding dynamic would tell that PC remained a ‘darling’ of the BJP/RSS for more than 18 months after he assumed the responsibilities of the post (end of 2008). One could see the ‘hard line’ he proposed against ‘Naxal menace’ easily gelled with BJP/RSS approach. Ranging from its open appreciation of PC (refer to reports of RSS meeting in Rajgir, Bihar October 2009 ; Narendra Modi’s speech in February 2010 in an official seminar on internal security) or resolution passed by BJP after the attack by Maoists in Dantewada which saw deaths of 76 CRPF personnel, nowhere Chidambaram was made the target.
The moment the investigating agencies became proactive on the Hindutva terror issue, RSS/BJP started distancing itself from him. Remember P Chidambaram’s statement (12 th May 2010 Youtube) wherein he said “[H]indu terrorism organization is the biggest threats for the country” and also added “its difficult to recognize internal terrorism.” or his speech in a conference of police chiefs ( August 25, 2010 ) where he focussed on what he called the ‘new phenomenon of saffron terrorism.’
Sample this statement given by Chidambaram while interacting with PTI journalists (BJP attacking UPA govt as Hindu terror being probed: Chidambaram, PTI Jul 25, 2011 , 06.11pm IST)
NEW DELHI : Home minister P Chidambaram on Monday said there are nine documented cases involving right-wing terror groups making bombs and killing people and BJP is targeting selective ministers because the UPA government has quickened investigations into them.
He said the objective of these fundamentalist groups was to clearly create terror and the government has to deal with that.
Interacting with PTI journalists, Chidambaram said BJP’s attack could also be due to the fact that the government has persuaded the court to hear two Ayodhya cases on a more or less day-to-day basis.He was replying to a question why he was being targeted by the BJP linking him to the 2G scam.
The targetting of P Chidambaram went to such an extent that BJP decided to boycott him in Parliament supposedly for his involvement in 2 G scam. Commenting on this, in an editorial comment ‘DNA’ (24 th Nov 2011) wrote :
Targetting Chidambaram helps the BJP to kill many birds with one stone. It will help keep the searchlight on the 2G scam—and corruption as an issue — which has damaged the UPA more than anything else in the last year. It is expected to go down well with the RSS, whose functionaries have held Chidambaram responsible for the action against Hindu terror organisations. The suggestion for cornering Chidambaram, some in the BJP say, came from the party unit and the RSS, which was not happy with the home minister for the way he has moved against saffron groups.
#The Congress party’s dilly dallying on the question of fighting communalism is a known thing. In recent decades, “[t]he party has oscillated between a form of ‘defensive secularism’ at times bordering on soft Hindutva, and an ‘instant secularism’ crafted more as a reaction to the BJP’s taunts than as a result of its own convictions.” (Editorial ‘Dealing With Communalisms’ ,The Hindu, Dec 24, 2010 )
The doublespeak of the UPA on ‘Saffron Terror’ in fact follows from this.
There are number of examples which show how it oscillates between anti-communalism in words and soft Hindutva in practice.
On the one hand while it is being told that the investigating agencies owing allegiance to the home ministry are busy in making a strong case against Indresh Kumar, on the other hand the same Manmohan Singh led government had no qualms in rewarding his supporters for ‘harmony’. (Nai Dunia, 14 Sept 2011 , Bhagwa Atankwad Par UPA Sarkar ki Kathani-Karni The gap between precepts and practice on the question of saffron terror) It was the month of August when in a programme organised in Delhi Vice President Dr Hamid Ansari, PM Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram felicitated Dr Mohammad Haneef, Ms Saroj Khan of Centre for Human Rights and Social Welfare and Acharya Lokesh Muni. All these three persons who were felicitated with communal harmony awards gave detailed interview to the monthly magazine of ‘Himalay Parivar’. It may be told here that Indresh Kumar happens to be a member of the advisory board of the magazine and also a key figure in the Himalya Parivar. While Mohammad Haneef said that he took inspiration from Indresh Kumar, Ms Saroj Khan appreciated the help rendered by Rashtriya Muslim Manch in her work of communal harmony. Not very many people know that Indresh Kumar is closely associated with the Manch, in fact, according to informal sources, he was the brain behind launching the Manch.
Or, look at its flip-flop on the question of banning ‘Sanatan Sanstha’ whose activists have been found to be involved in terrorist activities and some of them have faced convictions also for their role in blasts at theatres and cinema halls in Thane and Panvel in 2008. The issue has been hanging from more than three years with this or that department of the central government seeking additional information. With the conviction in the Thane Panvel blasts, the Maharashtra government has again approached the central government to ban the organisation but no decision has yet been taken (Ban Sanatan Sanstha : Maharashtra to Centre, Indian Express, 13 Sep 2011). Here is the latest update on the situation.
Centre urged to ban Sanatan Sanstha: State to high court
The state Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) has requested the Centre to ban Sanatan Sanstha, the right-wing outfit whose members are accused in the 2006 and 2008 Malegaon blasts. In an affidavit filed before the Bombay high court, the ATS stated that the authority to declare an organisation unlawful is with the central government under section 3 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The affidavit filed by police inspector Rajaram Mandage states that it would be up to the Centre to independently investigate and assess whether the outfits can be declared as terrorist organisations.
The affidavit has annexed a copy of the proposal marked as “secret” sent by the additional chief secretary of the home department to the director of Ministry of Home Affairs in April 2011 informing that three bomb blast cases have been registered against the Sanstha activists. A letter attached to the affidavit says that the activists of the outfit were motivated from the writings in Sanatan Prabhat publication of the Sanatan Sanstha. The government has concluded that the organisation (Sanatan Sanstha) is liable to be banned with its affiliated sister concerns Hindu Janjagruti Samiti and Dharna Shakti Sena, the letter says. It has requested the Centre to consider the recommendation and declare the outfits as unlawful and include its name in the UAPA as a terrorist organisation. ..
Emboldened by government’s dilly dallying the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti hosted a five day conference of hindu organisations in mid June 2012 which was attended by 175 delegates belonging to 54 organisastions. One of the main resolutions which was passed pertained to making India a Hindu Rashtra. It was also resolved that all the Hindu organisations should join hands to convert India and Nepal as ‘Akhand Bharat’.
But is it the case only with ‘Sanatan Sanstha’ ?
Said Hamid, Bombay bureau chief of Rojnama Rashtriya Sahara, Urdu writes (Kaumi Farman, December 2011, Page 23)
No Hindutva organisations has been banned since last ten years under UAPA…The list of such organisations which have been banned five times since last ten years comprises predominantly of Muslim organisations. Not only SIMI, it includes Deendar Anjuman, Dukhtarane Millat, Indian Mujahideen, Al Badar, Al Mujahideen, Al Burk, Al Fateh Force, Al Jihad Force, Al Umar Mujahideen, Awami Action Committee, Harkat ul Ansar, Harkat ul Jihad Islami, Harkatul Mujahideen, Hizbul Mujahideen, Ikhawanul Musalmeen, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar Muhammadi, Jamaitul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Pasban Islami, Tehreekul Mujahideen etc.
How is it that since last ten years no Hindutva organisation has been declared terrorist .. despite the fact that dozens of Hindutva terrorists have been arrested for their role in terror acts in Muslim dominated areas, mosques, kabristan etc. .
While one can understand that the ten year period which Mr Hamid mentions comprises of two plus year rule of BJP at the centre but his observation is worth consideration. Forget banning the organisation one finds a differential treatment when the police deals with ‘Jihadi terrorists’ or ‘Hindutva terrorists’. .’
One can just compare the ‘kid glove treatment’ meted out to accused in the Hindutva terror cases or the ‘NIA’s dragging its feet in such investigations’ and the ongoing communal profiling of Muslim youth /elders in terror related cases. Three cases recently made headlines which involved death of a poor construction worker Qateel Siddiqui, abduction of an Indian origin engineer from Saudi Arabia and continued detention of a senior journalist Syed Kazmi.. Qateel, the alleged IM operative was arrested last November in Delhi and was supposedly killed by fellow inmates in Yerwada Jail, Pune, the day his remand was to end ; Fasih Mahmood, an engineer was picked up from Saudi Arabia by India’s police accompanied by Saudi Arabian police and red corner notice getting issued only after his wife moved a habeas corpus petition in Supreme Court (now suddenly we are discovering that he is in ‘Saudi’ custody and would be deported soon) and senior journalist Syed Qazmi, widely respected for his vast experience and bold views, who still languishes in jail and the special cell asking for 90 more days to file a chargsheet against him despite its ‘claim of a water-tight case against’ him.
One cannot but agree with the memorandum presented by different citizens groups to the home minister which castigated ‘agencies being handed over a license to pick and detain anyone at will.’ and demanded an end to ‘reign of terror’ unleashed by the investigating agencies.
..Disappearances and illegal detentions have become rampant in the name of fighting terrorism. It is as though a new wave of counter terrorism has been launched to terrorize the youth belonging to a community.In this Kafkaesque world over which you preside, young men are picked up, some times snatched by one agency from another and presented to the world as dreaded terrorists. You may remember the case of Naquee Ahmed who was aiding the Special Cell in tracing two suspects in Mumbai when the Mumbai ATS abducted and kept him in illegal custody before announcing that a sensational arrest had been made. The Special Cell of course abandoned him. Competition between the agencies is costing innocents their life and liberty and when these squabbles spill into the media, your Ministry merely considers them bad PR rather than genuine concerns of a democracy.
(Outlook, Web, 14 June 2012 )
Or, consider the question of issue of compensation which has been given to few of those innocent Muslim youths who were arrested and tortured in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case. Out of 84 suspects rounded up by police after the blast, the government identified 70 for compensation and paid them Rs 70 lakh in the first week of January 2012. More than 15 of them were denied compensation in last minute changes to the list claiming that they have cases pending against them in other courts.
It is being rightly said that it is the first of its kind in the country wherein innocents were awarded compensation. The government is patting itself on the back for implementing the recommendations of State and Central Minorities Commissions as a precedent has been set for other states.
But can we forget that the report by the A.P. Minorities Commission which became a basis for granting this compensation had come out in Dec 2008 only. The state govenment led by Congress Party , preferred to sit over the report and this time also it was given as ‘part of a deal with MIM for not supporting the no-confidence motion moved by the TDP against the government’ (Indian Express, Dec 8, 2011, Mecca Masjid : Finally, relief for acquitted youths). In fact the state government came under ‘[s]harp criticism from floor leader of the MIM party in the assembly for delaying the release of compensation for three years.’ (do)
And secondly, what about prosecuting the guilty police officers who tortured and subjected the innocents to third degree methods to extract confession from them. No justice loving person can deny the demand of many of the wrongly accused boys who want the government to suspend the guilty cops and legally proceed against them. There is need to set a precedent in this direction also.
In fact, even after all these boys have been acquitted by the court and found innocent, the cloud of suspicion is still hanging over them,. the police continues to harass them. Everytime there is a festival or trouble in the city, police still come looking for them. The police which falsely implicated them has no qualms in putting tabs on them.
Question need to be raised if police personnel involved in false encounters can be sent to jail what stops the government to start criminal proceedings against such police personnel who have made life hell for all such innocent people. And it is not only a question of wrongly accused in the Mecca Masjid case, one comes across n number of cases where victims had to suffer for no fault of theirs because the policemen found them a ‘soft target’ and apprehended them.
It would be opportune here to present extracts of a press release issued by ‘Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association’(JTSA) on 13th September 2011, after the release of innocent Muslim youth from the 2006 Malegaon bomb blast case. It was titled ‘Lessons from Malegaon : Punish those guilty of misleading probes: Compensate the victims NOW!’
The NIA has finally put the official seal on what many activists, the families of the accused and the people of Malegaon had been saying for long: that the arrest of nine Muslim men for the 2006 Malegaon blast was a result of a communal witch-hunt, which passes for investigations into terror charges. ..
Malegaon sadly is hardly an exception but more a norm. Remember Mecca Masjid bombings, where scores of young men were tortured and incarcerated. Or the CBI enquiry report in Delhi , which established that Special Cell had kidnapped and framed two Kahsmiris, both IB informers, as operatives of a terrorist group, Al Badar. Or more recently, the acquittal of five Kashmiris by a trial court in Delhi , where the court demonstrated that the encounter in which these men were allegedly involved, was a product of the Delhi police’s creative minds. It did not occur at all! From Maharahstra to Delhi , from states ruled by BJP to those presided over the Congress regimes, the story is the same.
First, let us be clear that these are not minor or technical problems, where police and investigative agencies have followed wrong leads or conducted erroneous investigations in good faith. These were investigations which were deliberately diverted on a wrong track because it was convenient to produce someone as SIMI activist; or where false confessions were manufactured through torture knowingly—as in Hyderabad ; or innocents were rounded up deliberately with knowledge of their innocence simply because no one asked questions about police claims. These are not matters that can be ignored as well-intentioned but inefficient investigations—they were cynical and communal targeting of innocents in the name of national security.
Second, this acknowledgment has not led to either compensation for victims or prosecution of erring police officers. The Andhra Pradesh government shamelessly challenges the claims for damages filed by the young men who were brutally tortured by the AP police. Judge Virendra Bhatt’s verdict earlier this year seeking the filing of FIR against those officers of the Delhi police—included the decorated hero of Special Cell, Ravinder Tyagi—who faked an encounter in 2005, and a departmental enquiry is being contested by the Delhi police department…
It is quite coincidental that the ascendance of violent Hindutva right in the Indian subcontinent has occurred in the backdrop of similar attempts by the majority communities in different parts of the world. Our immediate neighbour Pakistan is witnessing an implosion of sorts with activities of various such groups.
Of late, western countries are also witnessing this phenomenon where we find small or big groups of similar fanatics engaging themselves in violence against the immigrants, Muslims etc. While emergence of people like Brevik in Norway , who killed scores of innocents last year has received the attention it deserves, the emergence of similar fanatic groups in countries like US, Germany and other countries of the western world has been underreported.
The beginning of Novemember the plot to use guns, bombs, and the toxin ricin to kill federal and state officials and spread terror was exposed by the US police (Nov 3, 2011, Indian Express, Four US men arrested in plot to kill officials) The men, all aged 65 and over were recorded telling an FBI informant that they wanted to kill Federal judges, IRS employees and agents of Alcohol, Tobacco firms. One of the arrested Frederick Thomas, 73 said “There is no way for us, as militiamen to save this country, to save Georgia , without doing something that is highly illegal : murder”. Commenting on this group the US attorney said “While many are focused on the threat posed by international violent extremists, this case demonstrates that we must remain vigilant in protecting our country from citizens within our own borders”.
Within merely two weeks of this exposure the emergence of Neo-Nazi terrorists in Germany also caught headlines where they were found to be responsible for a crime wave reaching back more than a decade that includes ten murders including immigrant shopkeepers and a poor police officer. Much on the lines of their Indian Hindutva counterparts they got exposed because of a self goal. The group came to light when the bodies of two of them were discovered in a van in Thuringia state ; they had set the van alight and shot themselves as police approached. A few hours later their female accomplice burned down their falt in the city of Zwickau and turned herself in.
Here also the ‘official failure to track down the neo-Nazi gang’ was considered the most serious problem. In its introspection, it was discovered that German Security Agencies and police have always kept German Muslims and other ethnic minorities under the sustaind surveillance but seemed to have paid far less attention of white terrorism. After blistering criticism of gross errors in the investigations in the ten murders Germany ‘s interior minister declared that the national database should compile data about violent right wing extremists and politically motivated violent acts by the right wing. He emphasised that such registry should include neo-nazis as well.
In an age of atrocity, witness becomes an imperative and a problem: how does one bear witness to suffering and before what court of law?
The resistance to terror is what makes the world habitable: the protest against violence will not be forgotten and this insistent memory renders life possible in communal situations.
(Carolyn Forche: Introduction to Against Forgetting, 1993.)
A question arises whether it will be possible for us to win the battle against Hindutva terror or we will have to learn to live it. Looking at the penetration of ideas of exclusion and hierarchy – which find deep resonance with the project of Hindutva – in our society and polity and the multifarious organisations built by executioners of the project to reach out to wider cross-section of people, immediate victory definitely appears difficult.
Whether we have countries in our neighbourhood who had to undergo similar experiences ?
If one looks at the South Asian experience it is possible that we may not get a clear answer.
Friends may cite the example of neighbouring Pakistan where bomb blasts every now and then killing innocents has become part of its grim reality today. One is witness to the emergence of terrorist groups claiming allegiance to this or that sect of the majority religion there or even some propped up by the ISI, the premier intelligence agency. Assasination of two of its important leaders belonging to the ruling party within a span of two months for daring to defend the rights of minorities and the societal support the murderers received, has brought forth another sinister dimension of the situation. It is being rightly said that if earlier liberal voices were in minority in Pakistan , today they are an ‘endangered species.’
Sri Lanka , the island nation, also does not offer any alternate scenario. The decimation of Tamil militancy, has created a situation where the synergy between Sinhala chauvinism and the Sri Lankan state has reached new heights making life more miserable for minorities of various types.
Interestingly, a look at , which in the words of analysts has been offered ‘another chance by history’ proves exactly the opposite. The transformations through which it has passed since last few years demonstrate that not only majoritarian terror can be reined in but processes can be unleashed at both structural and superstructural level which create conditions for building a robust democracy. For any close watcher of the Bangladesh situation, any such development was unimaginable even a few years ago.The ascendance of fundamentalist forces aided and abetted by the ruling dispensation then was part of its stark reality.
The late Professor Humayna Azad, one of the foremost litterateurs of Bangladesh and a leading human rights activist had in an open letter to his countrymen just before his mysterious death asked then “..Should the nation of ours be inundated with blood? Will the humanity get a shiver watching Bangladesh in this pathetic state? We don’t have much time. You decide what would be the proper step to take, and this is my earnest request to you all, my countrymen, including you- respected PM and the leader of the opposition.”. (The Bangladesh Observer, 16 August 2004 ).
Question arises how did the turnaround in Bangladesh take place ?
The young man’s feet were tied to a tree, his head dangling inches above the ground. A microphone was held to his mouth while he was tortured so that the villagers who were not present to witness the “trial” could hear his screams.The first to hear them were the men in uniform who did not stir from the police station, not far from the tree. The screams rose and fell till the man was dead.Their mission accomplished, the killers issued fresh warnings to villagers against straying from the Islamic way, swore their loyalty to Bangla Bhai and left the scene.
The incident is one of about 500 cases of killing and torture by Bangla Bhai’s armed Islamic bands that were documented by Taskforce Against Torture, a human rights group founded in Bangladesh three years ago.
(Teacher to tormentor, via Taliban, ASHIS CHAKRABARTI, The Telegraph, Aug 20, 2005 )
It would be difficult to believe today but merely a few years back, Bangladesh looked a mirror image of today’s Pakistan and it’s future as a democracy remained bleak. It was a period when one was witness to repeated, abuses by Islamist vigilante groups which were engaged in a campaign of attacks on minorities. The rising wave of hate speeches in public rallies inciting acts of violence against the Ahmadiyyas and the Hindus and Buddhists had become a regular feature. It was disturbing to note that even cinema halls, sufi shrines, traditional village fairs and cultural functions were then made targets of bomb attacks. The series of assassinations of respected secular intellectuals, journalists and academics had rather accompanied assassinations and violence against opposition party Awami league leaders. In fact, Bangladeshi intelligence agencies warned the government back in 2003 about JMB (Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh) and the threat it posed to the state (Daily Star, August 28, 2005 ).
Sheikh Hasina, then leader of the opposition, herself was the target of a bombing at the Awami League Headquarters at a massive rally in Dhaka.(September 2004) Incidentally she had a miraculous escape. Ofcourse Ivy Rehman, the president of the women’s wing of Awami League and 21 other League workers could not prove that lucky. Another towering leader of Awami League, ex finance minister Shah A.M. S. Kibria also faced death at a political rally organised by Awami League, in Habibganj situated in Northeastern Bangladesh merely five months after the attack on Sheikh Hasina. Just when he had finished his speech handgrenades were thrown at him in which he was fatally wounded. Four other workers of the Awami League also died in the melee.
Situation inside Bangladesh looked so grim that around hundred former civil bureaucrats, diplomats and IGPs jointly issued an appeal to the government in the aftermath of the killing of Mr Kabria plainly stating that ““Bangladesh will suffer the fate of Afghanistan, Darfur/Sudan, and Somalia unless the evils of extremism and intolerance are stemmed immediately,”( January 2005)
Few months after Kibria’s killing an unprecedented number of suicide bombings rocked the country. On 17 th August 2005 there were 350 simultaneous bomb blasts throughout Bangladesh, across 63 of Bangladesh’s 64 district headquarters.A wave of fear struck Bangladesh bombs exploded almost simultaneously across towns and cities, killing two persons and injuring about 140.The bombs targeted government offices, courts, press clubs and universities in Dhaka and 63 of the country’s 64 district headquarters, sparing only Munshiganj.Leaflets left at blast sites, bearing the name of banned Islamist outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, asked the government and Parliament to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh.
The officially banned terrorist group Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh claimed responsibility for the attack. Bangla Bhai’s Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh was also the other principal suspect for the serial bomb blasts.
The blasts brought Bangla Bhai back at the centre of discussions on the threat of Islamist jihad in Bangladesh . A former schoolteacher, whose followers were believed to number over 10,000, he had taken part in the Taliban’s jihad in Afghanistan .
For any keen observer of Bangladesh the trajectory of the country which declared itself a secular democratic republic at the time of liberation appeared incomprehensible. Parties like Jamaat-e-Islami who had never hidden their sympathies towards Pakistan and had agitated against independence in 1971 were then part of the ruling coalition led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party ( B.N.P.).The party had been banned after independence for its role in the war but had slowly worked its way back to political legitimacy.Ofcourse the most radical party in the governing coalition and a junior partner to the Jamaat-e-Islami was Islamic Oikya Jote ( IOJ). Responding to the American invasion of Afghanistan supporters of I.O.J. even chanted in the streets of Chittagong and Dhaka ”Amra sobai hobo Taliban, Bangla hobe Afghanistan,” which roughly translates to ‘’We will be the Taliban,and Bangladesh will be Afghanistan.”.
The April 30 sentencing of four cadres of the outlawed Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) to 26 years of hard labor for throwing bombs at a local court in 2005 returned the focus to Bangladesh ‘s struggle against pressing odds to contain the rise of Islamic extremism
(Daily Star [Dhaka], May 1, 2008)
Today, Bangla bhai alias Siddiqul Islam and his brand of fanatic politics is history. But this is merely one aspect of the turnaround which is being witnessed in Bangladesh.It would not be exaggeration to say that transformations in Bangladesh are a matter of debate among economists, social scientists and policy makers today. It is visible not only in the growth of the economy at a steady 5-6 % which is touted as the ‘development surprise’ (‘Seminar’ Bangladesh Turnaround, November 2009) but is also evident in the expansion of the ‘public sphere’, entry of women in large numbers in the public domain, growth of the old and the new media and ongoing social campaigns under politico-social organisations.
As far as dealing with the challenge of majoritarian terror is concerned it is clearly visible in the ongoing process of ‘institutionalisation’ which has successfully challenged the ongoing process of de-institutionalisation when the key institutions of democratic polity, ranging from the judiciary to the police and bureaucracy had become heavily politicised and partisan.
There are few important aspects of the process which need to be emphasised and which carry import for countries like us where similar challenges await us. Bangladesh tells us that a combination of political will, proactive judiciary and active citizenry can help rein in the menace of majority terror.
Political will: The powers that be decided that the atmosphere of anarchy and lawlessness need to be changed and it should not appear that crimes against humanity are being condoned. An all out action programme against the fanatics was launched wherein many leaders, activists, ordinary workers of these fanatic formations were jailed or sent to rigorous imprisonment for the crimes they committed against humanity or few amongst them (including Siddiqul Islam) were given death sentence. The powers that be decided that law of the land should prevail and there should not any onesided ness in its operation and implementation. The installation of a caretaker government in 2007 under the leadership of Fakhruddin Ahmed, with due support from the military, proved to be a crucial factor in this crackdown against the terrorists. (As it happens in such cases, there were charges of gross human rights violations against the security forces. Nobody can condone such practices.)
It is noteworthy that, the drive to clip their wings had started during the BNP regime itself which was supposed to be sympathetic to them. It was forced to take some action against these groups because of international pressure. The group was banned in February 2005 after a key leader—a university professor and ideologue, Dr. Mohammad Asadullah al-Ghalib—revealed the group’s plans to overthrow the civilian government through violence (New Age [ Dhaka ], February 28, 2005 ).
Proactive judiciary: Bangladesh ‘s judiciary which has been a beacon of hope in the minds of people for the defence of secularism and which also saw the rise of fundamentalist forces as a grave challenge also saw to it that there are no judicial delays in such cases. In many such cases, special courts were also constituted to dispense justice.
As an aside it may be told here that recently it gave many prowomen decisions which have futher challenged the stranglehold of the fundamentalist forces in one’s daily lives. In October the High Court officially ruled Bangladesh a secular state by declaring:
Bangladesh is now a secular state as the Appellate Division (of the Supreme Court) verdict scrapped the Fifth Amendment to the constitution…in this secular state, everybody has religious freedom, and therefore no man, woman or child can be forced to wear religious attires like burqa.
Active citizenry: Bangladesh happens to be one such third world country where a vibrant public sphere dotted with entry of women in large numbers into the public domain, a large number of civil society organisations covering many important areas of human life and combined with ongoing social campaigns have created conditions conducive to democracy. Impact of public awareness is very much visible in its rapid and spectacular improvements in human development indicators, particularly since 1990s.
Anybody can see that such politically aware, socially conscious citizenry has always acted as a counterweight to the fundamentalist forces.
Question is whether India can ‘follow’ Bangladesh as far as reining in forces of majoritarian terror ?
About the author: Subhash Gatade is a writer and social activist based in New Delhi. Subhash also edits a Hindi Journal Sandhan. His most recent book is “Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India”. You can email him here.